Metaphors and similes are an imaginative galaxy which greater minds than mine have explored. That doesn’t stop me gathering dazzling and original examples to enliven human exchange, expanding the choice of vigorous, beautiful ways to sharpen how we think, read, write and speak.

Twain on technology

Twain on technology

This simile was devised by Mark Twain to account for his inability to use Edison's new-fangled recording phonograph as a means of dictating his writing.  He clearly needed technology that could answer back. Curious to see the devil depicted as unsmiling,...

Girders like insect legs

Girders like insect legs

An unexpected way to convey the chaotic structural metalwork of half-finished buildings.  From Rory Stewart's engaging account of his walk across Afghanistan. 'On the flat roofs of half-finished shopping arcades, bare girders clustered like dead insect...

Where life meets death

Where life meets death

A surprising metaphor for the inexorable link between life and death, with the same sense of something encroaching with age. From the slim, touching and spare novel by Robert Seethaler. 'Death belonged to life like mould to bread.'   Source: Robert...

An artesian well

An artesian well

Peter Brown writes ancient history with verve and colour, bringing to life an era which can sometimes be passed over as dull if not dark, when nothing much happened beyond the implosion of the Roman Empire, followed by the ransacking of its buildings for...

Demons as microbes

Demons as microbes

I liked this analogy to help us grasp how demons were perceived in late antiquity, apparently more matter of factly than one might have thought.  Like microbes, best avoided but not worth losing sleep over.  But note the following comment, that early...

Rising like a damp-stain

Rising like a damp-stain

In addition to the infiltration of Christianity, seeping into Hellenic culture, as this historian memorably puts it, 'like a damp-stain', I also liked description of the Roman Emperor Julian's (r. 361-63) clarity as having been borne of hatred.  Whence...

Someday the history of metaphor will be written and we shall at last grasp all the truths and misconceptions in which this intensely speculative subject abounds.  

Source: Jorge Luis Borges, On Writing, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2010, p. 45

As fast as…

You can see the greased lightening serpent-slither whiplash-speed over slippery tiles.

See also the bestellar reviews, complete with rich quote-mosaics, of Adam Nicolson's magnificent Why Homer Matters and Logue's

As natural as…

If someone said 'as natural as...' what would pop into your mind?  'Tap water' seems unusual, but when we are being encouraged to drink tap water rather than commercially bottled...

Like sunlight on a landscape

You can see an overcast English landscape of rolling hills and fields, and a sudden break in the clouds pierced by a spotlight of sunshine.  This is a lovely novel,...

Bending

Those moments of concentration, absorption and self-forgetfulness, transported into the act of making. ‘… bending over a curled shadowy thing, like a sibyl reading a prophecy.’

Source: The Lost Carving, David Esterly...

Ajax and Alamein

Logue’s rendering of Homer is powerful because he makes it immediate, either by transporting you through sheer force of description to the battlefield before Troy, or by air-lifting you in...

Audible odours

An unforgettable description of a pungent odour, in this case, the fish head brought home for the cat by Digweed, the steward and coachman.

‘The cod’s head had the sort...

Clean as a snowdrop

We're edging towards snowdrop time, their pristine pendant-petals peeking through the mud and cold, like tiny bright lanterns lighting the way to spring.

Here it is Lisbeth, Adam Bede's mother,...

Bright and blinking

An alliterative description of a bone-like beacon.

'The bright eye of the light-house standing like a bleached bone at the edge of the sandhills, blinked in the clear air.'

 

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Shields like clinkered hulls

A marvelous description of the helots’ tightly held, flexible and impregnable shield wall, like the scales of a fish, or here, as the strakes of a ship’s hull, hermetically sealed...

Adjusting to atrocity

A splendid image of Alexander Pope’s awkward handling of Odysseus’ occasionally outrageous behaviour.   What do you do when the subject of your translation does something you’d rather they didn’t?

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